18 Aug 2015

Police bungle protection order arrest

1:13 pm on 18 August 2015

Police in Whangarei have again been slammed for poor handling of a protection order breach.

A 55-year-old man said he was wrongfully arrested for a protection order breach he did not know he had against him.

Police officer during Prince Harry's NZ tour.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

He told Radio New Zealand a police officer turned up at his house early in the evening of 21 March, and asked him whether he had seen his ex-partner that day.

The man said he had not, and was then asked if he had been to a particular street.

He said he had dropped his ten-year-old daughter at a friend's house on the street earlier in the afternoon.

"He put me under arrest and I asked him what for? And he said, 'breach of a protection order'.

"I said I don't know anything about a protection order. And he said, 'Well, that's fine, it's been made without notice'."

"He said 'that's hardly fair' as the order would've had to have been served on me for me to know about it."

The man said luckily his girlfriend was there at the time and he was able to leave his two children with her while he was taken to the police station.

He was told he would be there until Monday morning until the courts opened and put into a cell for about an hour.

"[The officer] took me into the interview room and said he was not going to charge me and he was going to give me a ride home. He handed me the protection order from my ex."

The 55-year-old said he was told he had three months to file an objection to the order, but after he left he read that he actually only had 10 days.

"I realised when I got home that the papers he had given me also contained confidential contact information, that I'm not supposed to have, about my ex-partner."

On the Monday, he went to Whangarei District Court and asked for the protection order to be served on him.

"The court said, 'Well look, the documents aren't ready yet and probably won't be ready 'til Tuesday'.

"'But since you're here, we'll get them ready for you in a hurry today, if you don't mind popping away and coming back this afternoon.'"

He said he then asked the court staff for clarification around being served a protection order.

"I said, 'Well, I've already been arrested'. And they ... just went white faced."

He was told he could not be arrested and police could not act on it until the order had been served.

Police apology

The police have now admitted an administrative error relating to the man's arrest.

Radio New Zealand understands they are meeting him today to discuss his complaint and to apologise.

In a statement, Senior Sergeant Dan Cleaver said: "Police will be meeting with a Northland man to apologise following an administrative error relating to his arrest for breach of a protection order.

"Following the arrest, police discovered the order had not actually been served and the man was immediately released after about an hour. Police explained the situation and transported him home.

"He was subsequently served with the order. A complaint was then received by Police on April 24. Police has since had informal discussions with the complainant and accepts more could have been done to check the initial order had been served.

"We will be meeting with him in due course to discuss the issue further and offer a formal apology."

The Independent Police Conduct Authority was also notified of the man's complaint in April, but referred it back to the district.

"The Authority will maintain active oversight of that resolution process and will review the outcome at its conclusion, saying it would oversee the process and review the outcome," a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, police in Whangarei said it was still dealing with a separate protection order-related complaint laid in January.

Ulanda Cochrane, 19, had accused a senior police officer of failing to respond to three protection order breaches she reported. The officer was stood down and is understood to still be on special leave.

In May, Ms Cochrane's ex-partner, Gene Hanham, was jailed for two years and four months for the three protection order breaches, assaulting a woman, and threatening to kill.

A family law barrister, Allan Cooke, says Morning Report he's sure cases such as that of the 55-year-old Whangarei man were not isolated incidents.

"We often hear of particular issues arising around getting the field orders, which are the protection orders themselves, out to the lawyers who are acting for the protected person," said Mr Cooke. He said it was often not occuring in a timely enough manner.

Case not isolated, says lawyer

Family law barrister Allan Cooke said the case was not a one-off.

Mr Cooke said he often hears about delays in getting sealed protection orders to the lawyers representing the people wanting protection.

He said in this case, the man's client's former partner also deserved an apology.

"I would have thought that it's the other side of the coin and one would expect the police to make appropriate amends to her around the release of that information which shouldn't have occurred."

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